Derry make four changes for visit of Laois

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DERRY have made four changes from last week’s opening round defeat in Galway as they prepare for the crucial National League Division Two visit of Laois to Celtic Park this Sunday afternoon (throw-in 2.00 p.m.)

Michael Wilson reports

Glenullin goalkeeper, Eoin McNicholl, makes way for Loup counterpart Thomas Mallon while Charlie Kielt comes in at half-back for Carlus McWilliams who drops to the bench. Further up the field the experience of Barry McGoldrick is preferred to Danny Heavron while Emmet McGuckin replaces Ryan Bell, who is with Ballinderry at the Ulster Under 21 tournament, as the focal point of the Oak Leaf attack.

Despite an improved second half last week in Pearse Park, Derry manager Brian McIver warned his players a similarly subdued start against Justin McNulty’s team will leave the Oak Leafers facing the propect of a second defeat in two games.

‘Sunday is going to be a huge test for us but it’s one we welcome,” explained McIver, “This Laois panel are experienced. They have been together now for four or five years and it’s fairly much the same core of players.

“They will be physically strong and having got positive results in Celtic Park in recent times, so they won’t lack confidence. They were a top eight side last year and under Justin McNulty, will be favourites to return to Division One.”

Last week a superb opening half from Laois saw them all but secure victory against Armagh by the half-time whistle after they amassed a match winning tally of 0-13 to the Orchard County’s total of four points. Armagh did make more of a game of it in the second period to leave the final score 0-20 to 1-09 but the warning signs are there for Derry.

“Last week we played for 20 minutes in Salthill,” admitted the Derry manager, “Although we were still within touching distance of Galway, that kind of display won’t count on Sunday. We need to push on from that performance. If we play to our potential, then we will be in with a shout. This is an important game for us and I’d urge Derry supporters to get behind the team at Celtic Park. I’m looking forward to a tough but enjoyable game of football.

“We will be without Ryan (Bell) this weekend as he is playing with his club in the Ulster Under 21 tournament. Gerard O’Kane will undergo a late fitness test after suffering a knock during the week. We’ll assess his participation closer to the game. Ryan Ferris had a slight calf strain but looks to be recovering in time for Sunday.”

Ross Munnelly’s seven points at O’Moore Park last Saturday evening included six from frees so Derry will need to be disciplined at the back if they are to disrupt the Laois promotion bid. The visitors’ panel is very similar to last season, the one notable addition being the return of forward Donie Kingston who, alongside veteran Padraig Clancy at full forward, will be the main threat to Derry. Midfielder Brendan Quigley who was named ‘Man of the Match’ last week, is another key player for the visitors.

Last season Laois never scored more than 13 times in any game but they registered 20 scores against Armagh which suggests a more to attacking approach this year. Last year they deployed 12 men behind the ball with the intention being to grind teams down but against Armagh the shift of emphasis was evident with numerous support runners encouraged to get up to the forwards.

McNulty’s team will travel to Derry on Saturday and stay overnight in preparation for a game which could define both teams’ remaining matches. Victory for Laois and they are ideally set to for an immediate return to Division One while Derry are anxious to register their first league win and avoid being dragged toward the foot of the table.

Speaking of the game, the Laois manager said his team would be taking nothing for granted and he expected Derry to provide difficult opposition.

“It’s going to be a tough, tough battle,” said McNulty this week, “Celtic Park is a tough place to go, it’s an ‘overnighter’ as well, and several players might not be accustomed to staying away with the team, so all those factors, plus Celtic Park is a bit of a fortress.”

“We need to recognise there are major areas for improvement in our performance against Armagh. If we float along thinking we are going to cruise through this Division then we have another thing coming.”